Tom Allen knows his way around a baked good. As host of UK series Bake Off: The Professionals and regular on the Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice, he is an expert on all things cake.
On Foxtel hit An Extra Slice, the 35-year-old comedian, writer and actor – performing his stand-up show Absolutely at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival until April 21 – roves around the studio audience, appraising bakes brought in by fans.
He’s always acerbic, usually cutting (but with class) and a master of the backhanded compliment: “It’s amazing that you took a Viennese whirl and made it even gayer.”
Still, with credentials including decades of making rockets and Dolly Vardens for children’s parties and a second place ribbon for Florentines at the 2012 Royal Adelaide Show, The New Daily was prepared to back its own work.
Over afternoon tea of mini Cornish pasties, petit fours and sandwiches at Melbourne’s The Hotel Windsor, we showed Allen photos of a birthday cake and the man who inspired it.
How did we do?
Allen’s response was swift and reasonably brutal: “Don’t ever make a cake again. I bet he’s itching to be 60 if only to bring him closer to the grave with cakes like that.”
TOM IS APPALLED BY THE CAKE
More to Allen’s liking was the afternoon tea laid on at the historic hotel. “I feel like it’s my grandmother’s birthday,” he said, admiring the silver teapots and making an admission about a favourite hobby.
“I do like a nice place setting and I love to polish silverware. The only buff thing about me is my silverware,” he said.
“It’s one of the things I used to do as a teenager. I kind of preferred staying in and maybe polishing some silverware, maybe learning some new napkin folds.”
Keen to claw back some street cred points, The New Daily challenged Allen – who talks about still living at home with his parents and learning to drive as an adult in Absolutely – to a napkin fold-off.
NAPKINS AT HIGH NOON
As a boy growing up in South London, Allen dressed in Victorian garb and for afternoon tea with TND wore one of four suits, including a three-piece tweed, brought to Melbourne for the Comedy Festival.
The Eurovision fan wears a suit, tie, and pocket square at all times for work, and prefers to be formally dressed even at home despite the ironing pressure it creates. He passed on some fashion tips for men, including pointed advice about what not to wear.
HOW TO DRESS WELL
Quizzed on all things British, Allen defended his countrymen’s reputation for having bad teeth and named Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, as most outstanding royal (“she always seems to have a drink in her hand, always laughing”) despite having met Prince William and Kate Middleton while performing on The Royal Variety Performance.
He puts jam on scones first before cream, has a preferred Beckham, and agreed Brexit is a vexed issue.
WHY CAN’T ANYONE SOLVE BREXIT?
Like his mannered fashion sense and taste for finer things, Allen’s comedic tastes are more old-school than contemporary.
“I grew up watching things like the Carry On films, which I realize is a very British cliche, and Frankie Howerd, programs like Spitting Image, French & Saunders,” he said.
Can people learn to be funny?
“Comedy is largely just being confidently nervous, you bare all your insecurities and that’s it really,” he said.
“It’s just a way of communicating with people that’s sort of light-hearted. You have to have maybe a natural leaning to it, but of course people can learn.”
Asked if he has a great one-liner that could work in any situation, Allen initially baulked: “That’s a huge ask. I would say it’s always people getting things slightly wrong.”